The Two Paradigms

Two paradigms exist in mental health, whether this is acknowledged or not. One is the positive paradigm, which is all about ‘structure-maintenance’ and ‘structure-consolidation’, whilst the other is the negative paradigm, which we may explain by saying that it is all about ‘structure-transcendence’. ‘Structure-transcendence’ – obviously enough – means going beyond the structures or systems that we have grown dependent upon, and which therefore define us.

 

If you were talk to anyone in the field of mental health then the chances are almost one hundred percent that they will understand ‘good mental health’ to be synonymous with ‘maintaining and consolidating the structure known as the rational ego’. Everyone understands mental health this way – this is the only way of understanding it that we have, collectively speaking. We have this basic attitude in life, this basic set of values, and we apply to everything; it’s a basic fundamental orientation so of course we apply it to every situation. To not do so would simply never occur to us! The more pressure we’re under the more we draw upon (and rely upon) our basic orientation, naturally…

 

There are times however when we are forced by circumstances or by extreme experiences to go beyond this basic orientation, and then (as far as the people around us are concerned) it’s as if we are speaking a foreign language! It’s as if we have lost our grip on reality and have started raving – we’re saying things that don’t make any sense at all. When we adhere to the ‘equilibrium’ (or ‘structure-based’) view of mental health then everything of course comes down to skills. Regaining our mental health is seen to be something that comes about as a result of us and learning, and then putting into practice, specially prescribed skills. When we are trying to restore an equilibrium value then this absolutely is a matter of using skills (or of ‘being skilled at utilising methods or strategies’) – there is no question about this. Structure-maintenance translates into control.

 

When we talking about structure-transcendence however then control isn’t going to have any part to play – the whole point of control is to bring things back to normative values, not free us from the gravitational pull of these values. It’s not just that this is what control does, it’s what control is! Control is a matter of ‘bringing things back to normative values’, control equals ‘returning the system to designated its designated equilibrium values’. If mental health were all about optimisation with regard to a particular way of being in the world, a particular way of interacting with the world, then skills and strategies would rule the day, but things are not this simple. Our mental health isn’t by any means a measure of how assiduously we stick to ‘the known’; on the contrary, mental health can be seen as a ‘reaching out to the unknown’, a movement out of equilibrium!

 

No obscure arguments or philosophies are needed to backup this observation – how can ‘staying the same’ be the healthy way to be? If you were to find yourself exactly the same person 10 years on, 20 years on, 30 years on, so that you are expressing the very same opinions, keeping the very same routines, getting involved in the very same discussions, the very same dramas as you always did, would you consider this healthy? Is ‘structure optimisation’ really the healthy option, or is it ‘healthy’ to change? Which feels better? Are we even truly alive if we don’t ever change?

 

Similarly, someone who never thinks or looks ‘outside the box’ can hardly be regarded as being particularly mentally healthy – if I’m concrete in my approach to life and always stick to the known, the tried and trusted strategies, the conventional way of doing things, and censure anyone who doesn’t do as I do, then this means that I am being governed by fear. This is a common enough modality of existence that we talking about here to be sure (the commonest, in fact!) but that doesn’t make it into a healthy way to be. It’s ‘normal’ but it’s not good! Acting on fear causes us to contract and react violently against anything that contradicts our closed way of life; if fear were not governing our lives then things wouldn’t be the same at all – we would be completely different in our attitude in this case. We would be open rather than closed, and this makes all the difference in the world.

 

It’s not overstating matters to say that almost all of our troubles are caused by this tendency of ours to ‘close-down’, or ‘shut ourselves off’ as a result of running from fear. The denial of fear always shows itself in the form of aggression; the attempt to escape fear breeds violence and intolerance, both directed towards others and ourselves and this violence / judgementalism justifies itself in the name of the ideal that is being promoted, it is seen as a ‘means to an end’ and this end is held to be so important as to make all possible means, however extreme, acceptable. When we are ‘governed by fear’ then we are uphold one specific way of doing things, one specific way of seeing the world, as being supremely important, as invalidating all others, and the reason for this is because this ‘idealised’ pattern of doing things is seen as our way of escaping the fear that drives us – our only way of escaping the fear that drives us.

 

It’s not that we are aware of this of course; we’re not aware that we are being governed by fear and so naturally we don’t see what we’re doing as ‘trying to escape fear’. We don’t see that our violence and intolerance towards ‘all other ways’ is a result of our belief that the way of seeing the world we are adhering to represents some sort of ‘magic formula’ that will save us from the nameless threat that is lurking in our unconscious. We are driven by these forces, these beliefs, and that means that we are in no way aware of them. Fear becomes the very basis of our world and so it is not something that we can see; it gives rise to a particularly aggressive and insensitive way of relating to the world, but – as we have just said – we see our behaviour as being necessitated by some great good that is either to be achieved, or upheld. If someone were to come up to us and put forward the suggestion that our way of seeing things is as precious to us as it evidently is because it ‘unconsciously represents’ a solution to the fear that is gripping us then we simply wouldn’t understand what they were talking about. We undoubtedly take against them for what they are saying – our precious ‘ideal’ (whatever might happen to be) is being disrespected, after all. ‘If you aren’t for us, then you must be against us’, the logic of fear says.

 

The question then arises (if we are talking about this thing called ‘mental health’) as to what the consequences might be for us living in this rigid conservative modality. If this concrete mode of existence isn’t healthy (as clearly it isn’t!) then how does this ‘lack of health’ manifest itself? Very simply put – and this is a very straightforward matter to talk about – being ‘shut down’ in the defensive/aggressive mode means that we will suffer, it means that we will feel bad. This is the inevitable consequence of being ‘shut-down’. We then either displace this pain onto others, and become even more aggressive than we were before, or we blame ourselves for it and become even more self-critical, even more controlling and punishing of ourselves. Whether we are harsh (if not to say positively hateful) to others, or to ourselves makes no difference; either way we have become ‘our own enemy’ – in the first case we afflict ourselves collectively whilst in the second case we afflict ourselves ‘personally’. Quite aside from the original suffering, we now have the extra suffering of our reaction to the original pain to contend with, and this is a spiral of thinking and behaving that feeds on itself and – with grim inevitability – becomes ever more toxic, ever more destructive.

 

What we are saying here therefore is that it is ‘structure-maintenance’ and ‘structure-consolidation’ that lies at the very root of our troubles. It is not going to be any kind of a ‘remedy’, therefore. We are holding on ever-tighter to our ‘pattern of being in the world’ (which is a pattern of ‘reacting’) and this is making things worse not better. Contrary to our unconscious assumption, maintaining and consolidating our pattern of doing things (which essentially equals our identity) is not the solution to our suffering, but the root cause of it. The only helpful process as far as neurosis is concerned therefore is the process of self-transcendence (or ‘reaching out to the unknown’) which – as we have already said – is not something that we can have a strategy or method for. There are no methods for self-transcendence, there is no strategy for ‘reaching out to the unknown’.

 

There is no strategy for reaching out to the unknown because this is something that has to ‘happen all by itself’. It can’t be forced – ‘reaching out’ can neither be ‘forced’ nor ‘prescribed’, obviously. It happens when it is ready to happen, just as forgiveness comes ‘when it is ready to come and not before’. There is a whole side to life that is like this and – as a culture – we are hugely dismissive of this aspect of life. We are only interested in that aspect of ourselves that can be managed, that can be controlled or forced. We dismissive of ourselves therefore because this act of ‘reaching out’ is who we really are, not the ‘holding on’. The fear isn’t us – the fear is the denial of us! In ‘holding on’ we go against our true nature, and that is why it causes us to suffer. When we react to fear we go against our true nature and start trying to secure things for ourselves, ensure things for ourselves, and generally ‘keep things the same’. We start trying to ‘take charge of the process ourselves’, in other words, and this is invariable bad news. This is how we try to ‘help ourselves out’, but it is no help at all. Our way of trying to help ourselves becomes our greatest affliction, and this is neurosis.

 

There is no strategy for ‘reaching out’, there is no method for ‘self-transcendence’, but there is such a thing as a supportive atmosphere within which this ‘movement’ can take place when it is ready to do so. Instead of being all businesslike and clinically efficient (and apparently ‘all-knowing’ as a result of our extensive education) what really does help in the field of mental health is simply to become more sensitive, more open-minded, and less controlling. Or as we could also say, what really helps is to become stronger and braver ourselves!

 

We don’t need a fancy, high-powered technical language to talk about the journey that takes us towards a deeper state of mental health; this isn’t a ‘technical’ business, it’s an opening-up business and there are no labels, or no instructions for ‘opening up’! Life doesn’t come with an operating manual, after all…

 

 

Image: Tick tock Traveler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pseudo-Communication

Everything is communication of one sort or another. To exist at all is to communicate! Even non-communication is a communication, if we can see it for what it is! But – on the other hand – if it happens that we can’t see non-communication for what it is, and think instead that it actually is communication when it isn’t, then what we have here in this case is something very different. What we have in this case is something that we might call pseudo-communication.

 

Pseudo-communication doesn’t so much mean ‘lies’ – it means that there is the appearance of a genuine two-way interaction going on when actually there isn’t. When it comes down to it there isn’t any ‘interaction’ at all going on in pseudo-communication because the term ‘interaction’ means that its two-way (otherwise we wouldn’t use the prefix ‘inter-’). When there’s no two-way exchange going on then what we’re talking about isn’t communication but control – the very essence of control is that it only works the one way, the very essence of control is that it happens ‘one way but not the other’…

 

Control is the very antithesis of communication (or ‘interaction’) and in this world of ours everything is about control – either control of the overt variety or control of the covert variety. In the past the authorities or rulers saw no need to camouflage their power – it was taken as being part of the natural order of things that the powerful had every right to exert their power over everyone else. It was the God-given right of the powerful to rule and no other explanation was needed. Power is after all its own explanation! And when it comes to the very widespread idea that Princes and Kings and Emperors had the divine right to rule, very clearly no other explanation is necessary! When the population believes in the divine right of kings to rule, and generally do as they please without having to explain themselves to anyone, then of course the notion of questioning their power never arises. It is no accident that monarchies and religion tend to go hand in hand, even to this day.

 

Even today the Queen of the United Kingdom has the title of ‘Supreme Governor of the Church Of England’, which – in theory at least – outranks the Archbishop of Canterbury, who would otherwise be considered the episcopal head of the Anglican Church. In the United States, democratically elected presidents often bring God into their public addresses, implying that God is of course on their side, as they are – of course – on His. What better validation could there be for one’s point of view, than to see it as aligned with that of the Divine Will? Invoking the deity, in these cases, is less a matter of personal piety and more – needless to say – a matter of consolidating one’s power in the earthly realm and, ultimately, the best way of consolidating one’s power is to makes one’s position (or viewpoint) unquestionable.

 

Within the last one hundred years or so the idea that one human being or group of human beings should have the right to exert power over others for no better reason than the brute fact that they are able to do so is widely seen as being completely unacceptable, if not downright abhorrent. ‘Might’ and ‘right’ are no longer synonymous. In one way this undoubtedly represents a huge jump in consciousness – humankind has woken up out of a long, dark slumber, or so we might suppose. In another, more important way however the gains we have collectively made in terms of freedom are more apparent than real. Control is not explicit anymore – the wielders of power have simply grown cleverer, out of necessity. The rulers have ‘upped their game’, and we have failed to keep up with them. We have allowed ourselves to be hoodwinked on a global scale.

 

Everything is communication of one sort or another. What else is there? ‘Communication’ is just another way of talking about consciousness and consciousness is our essential nature.  Our essential nature is to communicate – this comes as naturally to us as breathing. What passes for ‘communication’ in this modern age is in reality something very different however – it is something that has the appearance of communication but not its nature. We could equally well say that what passes for freedom in this world is a pale shadow (or ‘deceptive analogue’) of true freedom – we are free to do anything we want just so long as it takes place within the terms of the game that we are not acknowledging as a game.

 

In the same way therefore, we are free to communicate about anything we want to just so long as we communicate about those topics or issues that we have already been given to communicate about. Or to put this another way: we are free to communicate about anything we want just so long as we do so within the framework of reference that has been imposed upon us without us realizing that anything of the sort has been imposed on us. If I am thinking about the world within the terms of some framework of meaning (or framework of reference) that has been imposed upon me without me knowing that it has then I am ‘being controlled without knowing that I am’ – my way of seeing the world, understanding the word has been decided for me by some external agency and so what more effective ‘exercise of power’ could there ever be than this? This is the ultimate in control.

 

If I as a ruler or authority compel you to live within a certain structure, a certain format that has been decided by me, then this unpleasant authoritarian state of affairs actually comes as a pretty honest form of communication on my part. I am communicating my power over you in no uncertain terms – I actually want you to know about it. But when I control you by ‘supplying you with your reality’ (so to speak) then I am in this case most definitely not communicating my ‘use of power’ and this makes my power over you all the more complete. The ultimate form of control, therefore, is where I control ‘what things mean’ (or ‘what is real and what is unreal’); this is the type of control that can never be questioned, the type of control that will always go unnoticed.

 

We imagine ourselves to be freely communicating but we’re not, therefore. We’re not freely communicating because the terms that we have been given to communicate within are not our own – they have been decided for us by ‘the external authority’ for purposes of its own. We’re operating within the confines of a framework of meaning that has imposed on us from the outside, without us being wise to the event. Given these circumstances (i.e. given that we’re ‘playing a game without knowing that we’re playing a game’) there is of course absolutely no way that we can genuinely communicate! How could we – everything we supposedly communicate about has to do with a false reality that has been imposed on us. There’s no way that we can communicate about anything – in order to communicate one must be able to see what is going on!

 

If we look at this in terms of interaction, and our possibility of interacting meaningfully either with each other or with our environment, we can equivalently say that there is zero possibility of us genuinely interacting either with each other or with the system itself. There is the convincing appearance of that possibility, but that’s all it is – just the appearance. We’ve been wrong-footed from the start because everything is on a false basis. We’re not autonomously interacting, we’re ‘interacting as adjuncts or extensions or constructs of the system that defines us’, and this isn’t interacting at all. We can only autonomously interact with other people or with our environment when we are ‘autonomously ourselves’ in the first place, very obviously! If  our entire way of seeing the world has been provided for us by ‘the external authority’ then there’s no interaction – there’s no interaction because there’s only the system there, and in order for there to be such a thing as ‘interaction’ there has to be two things, not just the one. Or to put this another way, if I am interacting with my own ‘projections’, my own ‘externalized assumptions’ then this is just the illusion of interaction, the illusion of communication. For communication, there must be an ‘other’…

 

The ‘external authority’ that we’re speaking of here is simply ‘the game that we are playing without knowing that we are’ – which is the same thing as ‘the game which is playing us’. We live in a world of pseudo-communication because we live within the remit of this game, this ‘version’ of reality that has been imposed upon us. The crucial thing to understand about ‘living within a world made up entirely of pseudo-communication’ is that just so long as we continue to do this, then ‘who we really are’ never actually gets to be born, never actually gets to come into the picture. This then is what ‘control’ or ‘the use of power or authority’ actually does to us – it is (if only we could see it clearly) the ultimate form of violence, it is in fact what we might quite reasonably call ‘psychological murder’. Authority is ‘psychological murder’ because it prevents us from being here as who we really are…